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Valley of Fire 2-Day Photography Workshop - April 19th & 20th 2014

Valley of Fire Photography Workshop Students

Its heating up in the desert! After our little tour of the American Southwest outside of Moab, UT, it was time to head back west towards Las Vegas. Ellie and I kept seeing the temperature rise after successive mountain ranges passed. We ended up in the Nevada Basin where the temperature was a stunning 92 degrees, a full 30 degrees hotter than we had left it in Utah! Pretty insane increase! Im really glad we brought shorts! The reason for our trip back in a westerly direction was a little known park just outside of Las Vegas called Valley of Fire State Park. And since the weather had gotten a little hotter, the name of the park is apropos for the workshop we were about to embark on. In our air-conditioned hotel lobby (lovely appointed, by the way) we gathered with our students to go over the events of the next couple days as well as introduce everyone and ourselves, you know, the usual ApCad stuff.

In April the desert is going through some pretty interesting changes, the wet weather from the previous months has allowed some moisture to soak into the ground and the desert floor is littered with beautiful wildflowers, which we happened to hit just right in the Valley of Fire area. Also we are a little bit closer to summer so that means we have to wake up a little earlier to hit that sunrise color at the right time. But its cool, everyone who knows us, also knows we like to wake up early and hit scene.

Day One

Vegas, 4:40am. Welcome to day one of the VoF workshop. Temps were already in the mid-sixties, well before the sun was up. And we had a little less than a hour to get to our first destination: Nike rock. The "swoosh" in the sandstone has helped to give this place its namesake, and its pretty spot on! Ellie and I had the group setup around the area checking compositions and waited for the magic light to appear. Once the sun rose, we had brilliant light dancing all around the sky. We took advantage of the hills lighting up to get some shots of the twisting road; the soft warm glow of dawn hit the sandstone behind Nike rock and bathed everything in a cozy warm light. After the light-play, we showed them other formations to check out as the clouds became more interesting and broke up the monotony of the blue skies.

Then it was off to the next location: Wind Stone Arch. This formation is pretty cool and only really shootable in the morning when the light isnt directly shining on it. Its long tubular formation inside a giant sandstone rock was carved out over the eons by wind, water and mainly time. Its just big enough for a person to get into and setup a tripod and snap away. Its definitely one of the most interesting things to see in the park. Now a curveball! The clouds, which were obstructing the sun just an hour before were gone, so we quickly got back into the ApCab and headed for Elephant Arch, while the sky was clear. The idea here was to teach the group about shooting sun-stars, and Elephant Arch is the perfect rock to do it at because you can put the sun-star right where the elephants eye is. BOOM! A really cool trick to have in your bag when the skies are clear and you have something interesting you want to shoot. But okay, now it was getting a little hot so it was time to head back to base camp, AKA, Las Vegas and nap some while the hottest part of the day passed us by.

After our break it was time to hit the Fire Wave, the elegant candy stripe formation for which Valley of Fire is most well known. The area containing the Wave is pretty big, containing many other "wavy" rock formations of colored sandstone. Getting there early, allowing our group to get out an explore for an hour or so before sunset, has become routine since there is so much to see, and to be discovered. The "nicest" light hits the wave some time before sunset, but if theres any potential for the sky to "blow up" it was today. Streaming high clouds were abound, and it seemed that we would be greeted with a fantastic sunset full of color, but alas, the clouds were thickest JUST where the sun went down below the horizon, so unfortunately there was no crazy light show. Maybe tomorrow!

Day Two

Waking up equally early, we made our way to Crazy Hill. This place isnt all that different than the Fire Wave, in that many layers of brilliantly colored sandstone 'waves" all seem to come together atop a Crazy Hill. Again, we got the group setup for a spectacular sunrise, which was beautiful, if only for a fleeting moment. We gave the light a little longer to rise, bathing the hillsides with a constant stream of yellow light, before packing it up and heading to the White Domes area. This area has something a little different than the rest of the park: a slot canyon! Hiking the Domes Trail we found many interesting compositions and stopped to take them in as we made our way to the little canyon and area therein. We spent a little bit of time there exploring and shooting and wild rock formations and flora, and then finally hiked out again to go view some petroglyphs. Mouse's Tank is area where the ancient Anasazi (Pueblo) Indians concentrated most of the petroglyphs. Its named Mouse's Tank for a native who fled into the area - which is a maze of small canyons - to escape capture. Most of the glyphs in this area are near perfectly preserved into the rocks above and provide a glimpse into what our American ancestors were doing nearly a thousand years ago. After exploring the trail and seeing the bulk of the petroglyphs, it was time to head back to Vegas and eat, nap and do some post processing!

Once again the target for this afternoon would be the Fire Wave. We stopped just short of the entrance to give everyone a chance to shoot the curvy road system which is a hallmark of the park. Many times throughout the years, the park has hosted television commercials with exotic cars winding around the beautifully sculpted road system in the park. The roads just happen to go perfectly with the scenery, and today the clouds were performing with gusto! Once again there was promise for the sky to light up, and it did, just not in the expected direction. But no matter, the Fire Wave area has dozens of beautiful vantage points in all directions to capture the light show that was happening. Except for one, less than aware foreigner, who stepped in front of everyones shot, (jerk) I'd have to say it went off without a hitch and we a had a grand time! Thanks to all the workshop participants for making our (small) workshop extremely fun!

Until next time, Scott, Ellie and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team!

If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.



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